Ockam raises $4.9 million in seed funding to make it easier for developers to secure and scale their IoT apps

Ockam, a two-year-old, Bay Area-based company that’s selling tools to developers so they can establish an “architecture for trust” within their connected device applications, has raised $4.9 million in seed funding, including from Core Ventures, Okta Ventures, SGH Capital, and Future Ventures.

This serverless platform for IoT development is being led by CEO Matthew Gregory and CTO Mrinal Wadhwa, two cofounders with noteworthy backgrounds.

Before launching Ockam in the fall of 2017, Gregory was an “intrapreneur” at Microsoft, where he says he helped lead Azure’s pivot into open source software and container services. He also spent a couple of years at Salesforce as a product manager and, interestingly, spent a few years years ago as a system engineer working for Stars & Stripes, a syndicate of the yacht-racing competition America’s Cup where he tells us he led an engineering effort to build custom systems of sensors, analytics software and wireless communications tools needed to help the racing team make better decisions.

Wadhwa was meanwhile the CTO of another privately held IoT company, Fybr, that promises real-time data analytics capable of decision making at the edge (versus in the cloud).

Some of what the startup is promising is that, using its technology, IoT systems developers will be able to build more scalable connected systems — as well, crucially, as more secure ones How? Partly through crytpographic keys and partly by assigning credentials to different entities, from devices to people to assets to services.

The company is one of a growing spate of companies hoping developers will increasingly turn to them instead of building out their own software infrastructure.

For example, Particle, a seven-year-old, San Francisco-based platform for Internet of Things devices that has ambitions similar to those of Ockam, recently closed on $40 million in funding in a round that brought its total funding to $81 million).

Ockam raised its seed funding over two tranches, including a $3.2 million round that closed in May and an additional $1.7 million injection from Future Ventures in more recent weeks.

Storm Ventures just closed its sixth fund with $130 million

Storm Ventures, a now 19-year-old, Sand Hill Road venture firm in Menlo Park, Ca., has closed on $130.4 million, shows a new SEC filing. The outfit began its fundraising late last year, according to an earlier filing. It had closed its previous fund with $180 million in 2015.

Storm distinguishes itself in numerous ways, including its exclusive focus on seed and Series A stage enterprise startups, including mobile, SaaS and cloud infrastructure companies.

The partners also have a penchant for helping far-flung startups grow their footprint around the world. Tae Hea Nahm, for example, a founding managing director of the firm (and cofounder of four mobile companies before that, including Airespace and MobileIron), was born in Seoul, he has told us in the past that he spends a considerable amount of time in South Korea to attend startup board meetings but also to visit with Samsun and others of Storm’s LPs, which includes Korea Telecom.

Ryan Floyd, another of the firm’s cofounders, meanwhile recently posted about his “hunt” for European founders, partly because they are more focused on revenue from the outset than some of their U.S. peers (an increasingly attractive quality in all startups suddenly).

Some of Storm’s most notable bets at the moment include Workato, a Cupertino, Ca.-based work automation platform, which two weeks ago announced $70 million in Series C funding led by Redpoint.

Storm — which was involved in the company’s Series A  and B rounds — also participated in the financing.

Another bet is Honeycomb, a three-year-old, San Francisco-based startup whose product promises developer teams that they can see production more clearly so they can resolve issues more quickly. The company raised $11.4 million in Series A funding led by Scale Venture Partners in September; Storm, which had participated in the company’s seed round, also participated among others.

Among Storm’s other, more recent first-time investments, the outfit joined the $6.75 million Series A round of Talview, a two-year-old, Palo Alto, Ca.-based talent assessment and hiring platform, that announced its newest funding in August. More on the company here.

Quickly Create Your Own Custom Emojis With This Website

Image: Emoji Maker

Emojis can be a fun addition to a tweet or messages, but something the right emoji doesn’t quite exist. Emoji Maker is a simple tool that can help.

The tool offers a ton of different options for building your own emoji from scratch. For instance, you can create a surprised clown or a crying poop emoji. It’s similar to Emoji Builder, but with a much simpler interface.

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Building one involves picking a blank face template and then adding things like eyes, a mouth, or tears to truly make it yours.

The options are all the standard stuff that’s already available in the built-in emoji library; however, the tool allows you to put them together in unique and different ways.

Image: Emoji Maker

Unfortunately, once you’re done your only option is to download your creation as an image and then share it that way rather than adding it to an emoji keyboard. Still, it can be a fun thing to play around with.

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Facebook bowed to a Singapore government order to brand a news post as false

Facebook added a correction notice to a post by a fringe news site that Singapore’s government said contained false information. It’s the first time the government has tried to enforce a new law against ‘fake news’ outside its borders.

The post by fringe news site States Times Review (STR), contained “scurrilous accusations” according to the Singapore government.

The States Times Review post contained accusations about the arrest of an alleged whistleblower and election-rigging.

Singapore authorities had previously ordered STR editor Alex Tan to correct the post but the Australian citizen said he would “not comply with any order from a foreign government”.

Mr Tan, who was born in Singapore, said he was an Australian citizen living in Australia and was not subject to the law. In a follow-up post, he said he would “defy and resist every unjust law”. He also posted the article on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Docs and challenged the government to order corrections there as well.

On the note Facebook said it “is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information”. They then embedded the note at the bottom of the original post, which was not altered. Only social media users in Singapore could see the note.

In a statement, Facebook said it had applied the label as required under the “fake news” law. The law, known as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill, came into effect in October.

According to Facebook’s “transparency report” it often blocks content that governments allege violate local laws, with nearly 18,000 cases globally in the year to June.

Facebook — which has its Asia headquarters in Singapore — said it hoped assurances that the law would not impact on free expression “will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation”.

Anyone who breaks the law could be fined heavily and face a prison sentence of up to five years. The law also bans the use of fake accounts or bots to spread fake news, with penalties of up to S$1m (£563,000, $733,700) and a jail term of up to 10 years.

Critics say the law’s reach could jeopardize freedom of expression both in the city-state and outside its borders.

Airlines Are Offering Travel Waivers For Some Flights Due to Winter Storm Ezekiel

Image: Shutterstock

If you’re planning on traveling home from your Thanksgiving festivities this weekend, you might run into trouble if those travel plans have you coming or going from the Northeast. Winter storm Ezekiel is expected to cause some serious issues starting tomorrow, so much so that a number of airlines have already issued waivers for travelers flying on routes that might be impacted. Specifically, those with flights happening on December 1-2.

A waiver allows you to change your flight without paying a change fee. You’ll still be responsible for any change in the cost of the fare in most cases, but you’ll save yourself the nightmare of going to the airport only to have your flight delayed and then potentially canceled.

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As you might imagine, there are a few rules for this to work. Almost every airline requires you to have purchased your ticket by November 29th (yesterday). Waivers are currently only being issued for flights that are scheduled between November 29-December 5, and in most cases, you’ll need to be traveling to and from the same places on your rebooked flight as well. Some airlines are also allowing travelers to delay their trip, provided they plan to take the same journey.

The waiver deal works if you’re traveling to, from, or through any of the impacted locations. That list of airports is growing by the minute, but here’s a rundown of some of the major ones currently included:

  • Albany, New York (ALB)
  • Allentown, Pennsylvania (ABE)
  • Bangor, Maine (BGR)
  • Binghamton / Johnson City, New York (BGM)
  • Boston, Massachusetts (BOS)
  • Buffalo, New York (BUF)
  • Burlington, Vermont (BTV)
  • Elmira / Corning, New York (ELM)
  • Erie, Pennsylvania (ERI)
  • Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (MDT)
  • Hartford, Connecticut (BDL)
  • Islip, New York (ISP)
  • Ithaca, New York (ITH)
  • Manchester, New Hampshire (MHT)
  • New Haven, Connecticut (HVN)
  • New York Kennedy, New York (JFK)
  • New York LaGuardia, New York (LGA)
  • Newark, New Jersey (EWR)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (PHL)
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (PIT)
  • Portland, Maine (PWM)
  • Providence, Rhode Island (PVD)
  • Rochester, New York (ROC)
  • State College, Pennsylvania (SCE)
  • Stewart Newburgh, New York (SWF)
  • Syracuse, New York (SYR)
  • Toronto, Canada (YYZ)
  • Watertown, New York (ART)
  • White Plains / Westchester County, New York (HPN)
  • Wilkes-Barre / Scranton, Pennsylvania (AVP)
  • Williamsport, Pennsylvania (IPT)

Here are links to the waivers for specific airlines if you want to check your specific flight:

If you have travels that involve an area close to one of the impacted areas and a waiver hasn’t been offered for you yet, you might want to check again later today or in the morning before you head to the airport.

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If you do decide to head to the airport you also might want to make sure everything is charged up and you’re ready to spend some time there. Even if flights can get out of your airport fine, you might be in for some delays thanks to incoming aircraft.

Original Content podcast: Reasons to be thankful for streaming and Star Wars

Since it’s a holiday week for those of us in the United States, we’ve put together an (even more) unstructured episode of the Original Content podcast.

Among other things, this gives us a chance to update our initial review of “The Mandalorian” by acknowledging the Disney+ show’s breakout character, known unofficially as Baby Yoda — maybe that counts as a spoiler, but he’s all over social media already, and he’s even the subject of new Disney merchandise that seems to have been rushed into production.

Beyond our “Mandalorian” catch-up, Star Wars comes up again during our discussion of things from the streaming and entertainment world that we’re thankful for.

Despite some behind-the-scenes turmoil, the Disney era at Lucasfilm has brought us some delightful films, particularly “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.” It might seem kind of redundant to praise two of the most commercially successful films of all time, but it’s also an opportunity to address the online backlash and criticism directed primarily at Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.

Moving beyond the galaxy far, far away, we also discuss topics like Netflix shows (“Another Life”) that we’re excited to see return, plus the streaming series (“See”) and movies (“Marriage Story”) that we’re currently enjoying.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro/Thanksgiving plans
5:40 “Mandalorian” follow-up
18:33 What we’re thankful for

This Week in Apps: Apple Arcade updates, TikTok distances itself from China, Kardashians send shady app to No. 1

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all. What are developers talking about? What do app publishers and marketers need to know? How are politics impacting the App Store and app businesses? And which apps are everyone using?

This week, we’re discussing the impact of the CFIUS investigation into TikTok, the further fallout of Apple’s vaping app ban, updates to Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass subscription-based app stores, Apple’s breaking changes that rolled out without warning (thanks, Apple!) and a shady app that reached the top of the App Store thanks to a big Kardashians-led endorsement, among other things.

Headlines

TikTok separates further from its Chinese parent

One of the world’s most downloaded and used apps, TikTok, is under a national security review in the U.S. because of its Chinese roots. TikTok parent company, ByteDance, is a China-based operation — something that has raised concerns because of its significant access to U.S. users’ personal data and potential censorship issues.

The company was already working to separate itself further from China before the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) began its investigation. For example, it separated the TikTok product, business development, marketing and legal teams from those of its Chinese app, Douyin, and hired consultants to audit how it’s storing U.S. users’ personal data. Following the investigation, it hired more U.S. engineers and set up a U.S.-based team to oversee data management, Reuters reported.

The question now is whether not these moves — along with a promise to not store U.S. user data in China — will be enough. The app collects data including profile information such as name, age, email and phone number, provided by users, as well as photos, videos, and location. Many of TikTok users are younger teens and college students.

Even if you’re “too old” to care about TikTok, CFIUS investigation’s conclusions here will have a larger impact on the global app industry, as they’ll set precedents as to how foreign powers can compete in U.S. app stores.

Oops: Apple releases breaking changes with no warning 

Apple this week introduced new server-to-server notifications for subscriptions that allowed developers to receive real-time updates in a subscription’s status, so they could provide customized experiences for subscribers. Only one problem with the release: Apple broke most server notifications implementations as a result. Developers weren’t given any warning about the APIs that were “scheduled for deprecation,” either, which is not typically how web APIs are managed. To add icing to the cake, not only were the changes released without warning, they were also rolled out on a Friday — there goes the weekend. Thanks, Apple.

The vaping app ban backlash continues

Has Apple crossed the line between protecting its users from dangerous apps to just turning into an overbearing parent policing adults’ ability to make their own choices? Over the past couple of weeks, several have said the latter. Now concerning are arising about what this means for the overall industry and whether or not decisions like this should even be in Apple’s hands in the first place.

As you may recall, Apple earlier made a controversial decision to remove all 181 vaping-related apps from its App Store in wake of news from the CDC about the 47 vaping deaths and thousands of lung injuries. Some early studies point to Vitamin E acetate, an addictive used in THC oil, as the cause. But Apple isn’t worrying about the details of what’s dangerous and what’s not — it just wiped out anything vaping-related, including things like Bluetooth-connected apps that let users control aspects of their vaping devices, like the lights, heat, and updates to the firmware. There’s no backup plan here for those app makers, since web apps don’t offer the same level of functionality. Plus, the ban is also impacting devices used to distribute medication as well as apps designed to help people cut down and eventually quit smoking and vaping by tracking their nicotine usage.

For app entrepreneurs, Apple’s decision in one fell swoop also just destroyed half the vaping app market as their apps will now only run on Android.

The question now is whether or not any of this should be Apple’s decision? While you may personally applaud a vaping app ban — or simply not care because it doesn’t affect you — Apple has made other controversial choices that have a more serious impact. Like when it kicked out the app that aided Hong Kong protestors, for example.

Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass expand their collections

Apple’s subscription-based gaming store and Google’s rival subscription app store, Google Play Pass, have both added new apps since their debuts. Now, the two companies are making users aware of their ongoing efforts to beef up their respective collections. Apple this week shared a video that highlighted over a dozen new Apple Arcade releases that hit this month — the first time it’s released a compilation video featuring multiple titles since its launch.

Meanwhile, Google Play Pass added 37 more apps to bring its total to 274.

What we don’t know yet, is how well the two services are working — or whether they will benefit developers in the long run. And because neither has a Top Charts section, it’s not even clear what apps are most popular or how many downloads they’re seeing.

Apple Arcade adds a “Top Games” chart… well, sorta… OK, not really

Apple took a step to address the above problem with a new section in Apple Arcade called “Top Arcade Games This Week.” We had argued earlier that the lack of visibility into the popularity of titles on Arcade was a disservice to users who wanted quickly and easily find the most popular titles.

But this new section, while fun, doesn’t solve the problem. Top Games, based on what? Downloads? Editorial curation? Both? Is there going to be an API for it?

It’s common knowledge that the App Store’s Top Charts are based on a combination of downloads and velocity. And that data is accessible to third parties like App Annie, Sensor Tower, Apptopia and others who use it to come up with download estimates.

But a “Top Games This Week” section is not the same thing as a real Top Charts section. And by limiting it to only a week’s time, it provides no real insight into whether or not the Arcade is able to produce a lasting hit the way the App Store can, or what those hit titles may be.

Apple has distanced itself from promoting the Top Charts as a means of app discovery for years now. With its big App Store makeover, it shifted its focus more to editorial, curation, and recommendations, rather than downloads. But for a smaller store like Arcade, Top Charts could have value as they would feature some of the best titles from an already exclusive collection — that’s something people would want to see.

Why was a shady photo editor the top app of October?

As the new year beckons European investors start moving into new roles

As the Holiday Season approaches, new jobs for players in the tech ecosystem beckon. And this is no less true for investors. Two notable moves have recently happened that are worthy of note in the European scene.

The first is that GR Capital, a pan-European VC, is opening an office in London and has lured Jason Ball, who, earlier this year, left Qualcomm Ventures where had been European Managing Director for over a decade. Bad spent ten years as a mentor at Seedcamp and individually invested in more than ten companies. He was understood to be looking for new challenges, either building a new fund or joining another – so now we have our answer as to what he decided.

Founded in 2016 by Roma Ivaniuk in Ukraine, GR Capital specializes in late-stage VC investments. It has over $70M under management and has invested in Lime, Azimo, WeFox, McMakler, Glovo and Meero among others. The fund has traditionally been known for investing in Eastern Europe, but with a London office and the extremely well-networked Ball under its belt, we should be hearing more from them on the wider European scene in future.

Ivaniuk said in a statement that the move “means we can now drive our pan-European business activities from the continent’s most important VC hub, London.”

Ball said “We see a huge opportunity here to connect the dots between West and East. The London ecosystem is an exciting offering for investors in Eastern Europe, which in turn presents unique R&D and growth opportunities for portfolio companies.”

Meanwhile, Jon Bradford was most recently a partner of Motive Partners and a UK investment pioneer — having founded the Springboard Accelerator that merged with Techstars to become Techstars London, as well as helping to co-found F6S and Tech.eu. But he is also on the move, now joining Dynamo Ventures as its newest partner.

Bradford will be joining Dynamo on a full-time basis having previously been an advisor who helped launch the debut fund. He has invested in over 100 startups over the last decade including Apiary, Hassle, Tray.io, Flitto (that recently IPO’ed in Korea), Sendbird and Chainalysis. Dynamo is a US-EU based seed fund focused on B2B startups in supply chain and mobility. It has invested in 20 startups across the US and overseas, investing in including Sennder (Berlin), Skupos, Stord, Gatik and LEAF Logistics.

Startups Weekly: Chinese investors double down on African startups

Hello and welcome back to Startups Weekly, a weekend newsletter that dives into the week’s noteworthy startups and venture capital news. Before I jump into today’s topic, let’s catch up a bit. Last week, I wrote about Airbnb’s issues. Before that, I noted Uber’s new “money” team.

Remember, you can send me tips, suggestions and feedback to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or on Twitter @KateClarkTweets. If you’re new, you can subscribe to Startups Weekly here.


China’s pivot to Africa

Three African fintech startups; OPay, PalmPay and East African trucking logistics company Lori Systems, closed large fundraises this year. On their own, the deals aren’t particularly notable, but together, they expose a new trend within the African startup ecosystem.

This year, those three companies brought in a total of $240 million in venture capital funding from 15 different Chinese investors, who’ve become increasingly active in Africa’s tech scene. TechCrunch reporter Jake Bright, who covers African tech, writes that 2019 marks “the year Chinese investors went all in on the continent’s startup scene” — particularly its fintech projects. Why?

“The continent’s 1.2 billion people represent the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population — which makes fintech Africa’s most promising digital sector,” Bright notes. “In previous years, the country’s interactions with African startups were relatively light compared to deal-making on infrastructure and commodities. Chinese actors investing heavily in African mobile consumer platforms lends to looking at new data-privacy and security issues for the continent.”

Active Chinese investors in Africa include Hillhouse Capital, Meituan-Dianping, GaoRong, Source Code Capital, SoftBank Ventures Asia, BAI, Redpoint, IDG Capital, Sequoia China, Crystal Stream Capital, GSR Ventures, Chinese mobile-phone maker Transsion and NetEase.

Here’s more of TechCrunch’s recent coverage of Africa startup activity:


VC Deals

It was a short week (Happy Thanksgiving, by the way). But here’s a quick look at the top deals of the last few days.


M&A (VR edition)

Last week, Facebook announced it was buying Beat Games, the game studio behind Beat Saber, a rhythm game that’s equal parts Fruit Ninja and Guitar Hero. Heard of the company? Maybe if you’re a gamer, but if you’re readying this newsletter because of your interest in VC, this company may not have come across your radar.

Why? It’s one of virtual reality’s biggest successes today, but it’s just an eight-person team with no funding.

“I’m really proud that we were able to build the company with this mindset of making decisions based on what is good for the game and not what is the most profitable thing,” Beat Games CEO told TechCrunch earlier this year. Read about Facebook’s acquisition here and an in-depth profile of the small team here.


Equity

If you like this newsletter, you will definitely enjoy Equity, which brings the content of this newsletter to life — in podcast form! Join myself and Equity co-host Alex Wilhelm every Friday for a quick breakdown of the week’s biggest news in venture capital and startups.

This week, we discussed Weekend Fund’s new vehicle, Cocoon’s new friend-tracking app and the unfortunate demise of a startup called Omni. You can listen here.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

Avoid Those ‘Secret Sister’ Gift Exchanges on Facebook

Every year my Facebook newsfeed is inundated with invitations to join gift exchanges, specifically those that suggest you can send one gift or book or bottle of local beer and then you’ll magically receive 36 in return. It sounds too good to be true, which is probably because it is.

Anyone who does the simple math can tell that this is not a thing that’s going to actually work. You can also tell that it’s essentially a pyramid scheme, which is illegal. Nevertheless, the exchanges pop up on Facebook and via email every holiday season, so much so that The Better Business put out an alert about them earlier this month. Here’s how it explains the problem:

The scheme starts with a convincing invitation, either by email or social media to sign up for what seems like a great, fun program. All you must do is provide your name and address and personal information of a few additional friends, and tack this information on to a list that’s already started of people you’ve never met on the Internet. Next, it’s your turn to send an email or social media invitation to send a modest gift or bottle of wine to a stranger along with their friends, family and contacts.

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The cycle continues and you’re left with buying and shipping gifts for unknown individuals, in hopes that the favor is reciprocated by receiving the promised number of gifts in return. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. Just like any other pyramid scheme, it relies on the recruitment of individuals to keep the scam afloat. Once people stop participating in the gift exchange, the gift supply stops as well, and leaves hundreds of disappointed people without their promised gifts.

Essentially people are flaky and this it’s not going to make it past person #3 on the list, if even that.

Even better, you’re essentially handing out your name and home address to a bunch of strangers on the internet. This is never a good idea for a million different reasons, the largest of which is you’re opening yourself up to be the victim of future scams or potential identity theft. You have, after all, proven you’re a bit gullible by participating in this online gift exchange thing to begin with.

If you do get invited to one of these exchanges this year, the Better Business Bureau recommends ignoring the invitation. If that invite happens via social media, it also recommends reporting the Facebook post. I’d suggest dropping a link to this story or the BBB’s blog post in the thread as well to alert other potentially “secret sisters” that they’re likely being scammed.

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You might also want to reach out to the person posting the scheme directly and let them know. Chances are good your grandmother/neighbor/coworker doesn’t realize what they’re posting isn’t on the up-and-up and they would probably appreciate that knowledge given to them discretely rather than in a public thread on their Facebook page.